lntroduction - Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino
Three years ago when we embarked on this project, we faund it hard to believe
that no illustrated history of Santiago covering the prehistoric and historie periods
had ever been published. This surprising fact encouraged us to disseminate a
pictorial testament to the different stages of the city's history that also took into
consideration the fires, earthquakes and floods that have left their unmistakable
mark on this and other cities of Chile.
The book's eight chapters relate the resolute will of the city's residents to resist the
continuous onslaughts of nature. From the very beginning the conquistadors had to
work to establish a capital city in this comer of the world. lts position was consolidated
in the centuries that fallowed, and finally secured with the country's lndependence,
as Santiago was named capital of the new Republic. In the nineteenth century the
Enlightenment left its rich and magnificent mark on the city's environs, while in the
last century Santiago was at the farefront of important social movements, while its
population grew exponentially until it was transfarmed into a metropolis. The final
part of this book is intended to offer perspectives and analyze majar issues that must
be addressed far the future of the city.
As the last century is still recent history, the final chapters of the book are more
like essays than historical accounts, and on occasion the images and text may
appear disparate. lndeed, the historie narrative and pictorial story run parallel up
to the Centennial; alter this, the images follow a time sequence while the text
facuses on sociological and urban developments.
This publication was created far those interested in bearing witness to the birth of a
modest town with urban pretensions, a place that today has become a metropolis
with its own challenges and opportunities. Ultimately, this book is a celebration
of our capital city, Santiago de Chile.
p. 2. Santiago Apóstol en los novas de Tofoso. Polychromatic
relief wood carving attributed to the Maestro de San Roque,
Potosi, Bolivia, seven teenth century. Museo Nacional de
Bellas Artes, Santiago.
p. 4. Vis/o de Sonliogo desde Peñolo/én. Oil painting by
Alejandro Cicare lli, 1852. Barico Santander, _Santiago.
p 6. Vento de sandios en lo Alameda. Oi l pa inting by
juan Machi, ca. 1880. Banco Santander, Santiago.
p. 8. The mountains ot Santiago seen from the Bel lavista
· Estate of Bishop Mariano Casanova at the foot of Ce rro
san Cristóbal. Oil painting by Pedro Lira, ca. 1890. Banco ·
San tander, Santiago.
After the rain
Cristián Warnken Lihn
After it rains, the mountains encircling Santiago seem unreal .
They astonish us like a vision or a dream, materializing
suddenly, white and inaccessible, when the air is purest. They
take us by surprise, as if they had sprung out of nothing. But
they were always there1 We just had not seen them. Where
were we, then? What had we been focused on instead 7
Befare the tremendous silence of these peaks, befare their
magnificence, everything here below seems so small. Such
blindness, such useless activity, such empty chatter. We did not
see them because we no longer know how to contemplate.
After the rain, these mountains, like no others in the world,
emerge like petrified waves of ice and stone. Like a hidden
sea that had been veiled by thick fog. With Santiago below, a
port beneath the heavens.
gods never allow their faces to be seen. These mountains
that enclose the valley were once gods. Or perhaps they are
giant fossils from a paradise we have lost? They, the eternal
ones, have shown us their faces, and we have run away,
taking refuge in our caves, our workplaces. That has been our
response: To flee from the beauty that surrounds us.
More than the city's unclean air, it is the gaze grown old that
has blanketed them with forgetfulness. Only a child could
draw them afresh, in a new notebook on the first day of
school. We have turned our backs on them . lt is said that the
lt was the poets who, much later, raised their voices to
perceive these rocks, this sky for the first time. They lifted our
gaze upward. lt is because of them that we became aware
of the swift are of singular light that cuts across the sky at
But there comes a time when each inhabitant of this city
must stand alone befare these mountains, preferably on a
day after it rains, and contemplate them as did the valley's
first inhabitants and later the Spaniards, facing them head on.
1 imagine Pedro de Valdivia's silence as he confronted these
peaks. Because to see these mountains within, one must
twilight in these latitudes. "Solitary like a mountain saying
the word then." The mysterious verse of Ornar Cáceres, a
poet of the 1930s and violinist in an orchestra of the blind,
still hangs in the air.
Solitary like a mountain saying the word then. That is how
we feel each time it rains in Santiago. Air that is pure,
jubilant, cold, blows down from on high and cleanses
the valley. And enraptures us, and then we believe that
anything is possible, that we can all be baptized once again,
that we all have the right to take a new name. That nothing
is set in stone. That this is the first day of creation . And that,
despite everything, we can still say "then."
lt was our fate to be born here, in this place on Earth. Not
in another. And we were given the gift of these clean clear
days after the rain. What shall we do with them7 What
shall we do with the mountains7 Shall we allow them to
disappear from our sight, like the remnants of lost grandeur7
Or shall we reconquer them with a new gaze that illuminates
everything like a lightning bolt7 Everything there is to do, is
here; everything is possible. That is the wonder of living in
America : That we can begin again, without having to account
to anyone for anything, without a past that weighs upon us.
Traveling light, we can depart one rainy day and walk upward,
bearing our solitude, until reaching these peaks, so clase at
hand. Beca use never, nowhere on Earth, have the peaks been
so clase, and we so far away.
Realizing this, we lift up our eyes and recall that living
below the mountains is a·n invitation to take flight, to soar
over things with a bird's eye view. To not remain at ground
level, to not sink. To not descend lower than that which we